With the NFL season just around the corner, there are a few teams to watch for in the headlines come the 2017 kickoff. We here at Hit the Cut will give you some of the good, for the 2017 season, the bad and of course, the ugly to watch for. Enjoy.
Carolina Panthers – The Panthers had a disappointing 6-10 record in 2016 after appearing in Super Bowl 50 the year prior. A team lead by QB Cam Newton FINALLY added some legitimate pieces to support their star, duel-threat pivot man by drafting jack-of-all running back Christian McCaffrey out of Stanford and wide receiver Curtis Samuel out of Ohio State. McCaffrey was all-everything with the Cardinal, amassing 6,987 all-purpose yards in his career via rushing, receiving and specialty teams returning. The exciting part of McCaffrey for the Panthers will be his receiving capabilities out of the back field. Carolina was definitely lacking an over-the-middle slot receiver, having only big play targets in years prior such as Kelvin Benjamin and Ted Ginn. Look for him (McCaffrey) to be a dynamic addition and have a massive effect on the offense right away. As for Samuel, his speed is what makes him so attractive. The explosiveness he possesses makes him much like a McCaffrey 2.0. These two draft picks add another element to a Carolina offense with stud tight end Greg Olsen and the aforementioned Newton.
On the opposite side of the ball DC Sean McDermott needed a shake up for his unit which ranked 26th in the NFL in point against a year ago. The problem was defending the pass: 29th in yards against and 20th in passing TD’s. Solution: the Panthers signed veteran DE Julius Peppers whom has amassed 143.5 sacks in his great career. Returning back to Carolina, Peppers adds a pass rusher to a defense that did rank 7th in forced turnovers, and will help slow down opposing teams attack through the air by causing havoc on their QBs. Oddly enough however, Carolina ranked 2nd in DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average)* per Football Outsiders, a very impressive spot to be in.
Playing in the NFC South with a very young Tampa Bay Buccaneers team, Super Bowl runner-up Atlanta Falcons and a New Orleans Saints team in transition, the division can be looked as up for grabs. The Panthers should return to their 2015 form.
Green Bay Packers – Usually one does not consider a team which yearly performs among the best in the NFL as a “team to watch” but the 2017 Packers definitely will be. To begin with, GM Ted Thompson did what he does best: build through the draft, selecting stud CB Kevin King in the 2nd round out of Washington. King projects to be a possible #1 CB for Green Bay at a position they were in dire need of upgrading. King will join a secondary with the likes of Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Morgan Burnett. The improved secondary will be huge for the Packer defense as a whole, as they already boast a very impressive line-backing unit with Nick Perry, Clay Matthews, Blake Martinez and Jake Ryan. Offensively Thompson made a surprise splash, signing Martellus Bennett off the free agent market. Bennett showed great chemistry with Tom Brady for the Patriots a year ago, and was the 3rd ranked TE in DYAR (Defense-adjusted Yards Above Replacement)* per Football Outsiders, and hauled in seven touchdowns. I love this signing for Green Bay: adding a massive target in Bennett to a receiving corps of Jordy Nelson, Devante Adams and Randell Cobb to go with play making RB Ty Montgomery and arguably the best QB in the NFL in Aaron Rodgers. Rodgers will retain one of the best pass protecting offensive lines in the league, and should be able to shred opposing defenses once again in 2017.
An upgraded secondary should bode well for the 31st ranked passing defense a year ago. Factor in another weapon on the offensive side of the ball and the Packers could very well run away with the NFC North.
Tennessee Titans – The Titans took a big step forward in 2016, nearly making it to the playoffs under young star QB Marcus Mariota. This off season GM Jon Robinson set out to improve two major weaknesses from 2016: their 25th ranked passing attack, and 30th ranked pass defense. Boasting one of the best rushing units in the league, the Titans didn’t have to go crazy looking for the big headline-making pick up. Instead they built through the draft, selecting WR Corey Davis in the 1st round. A big target (6’3″) Davis will be a viable weapon for years to come, and lighten the load for TE Delanie Walker in a receiving group that was milled with inconsistency a year ago. On the ground, Demarco Murray showed form of the man who suited up for the Dallas Cowboys along side impressive Alabama rookie Derrick Henry, forming one of the most potent one-two punches in the NFL from a rushing point of view. The defense was average last season, getting shredded through the air but was ranked 2nd against the run. Robinson attempted to shore-up the secondary, drafting Adoree’ Jackson 18th overall out of USC and brought in longtime New England Patriot CB Logan Ryan. Jackson, though undersized at 5’10” brings athleticism to the Titan secondary and could turn out to be a nice piece in the return game as well. Ryan brings Super Bowl experience from New England, winning two rings with the Pats and appearing in the postseason all four years there. Sack-machine Brian Orakpo (10.5 sacks in 2016) is the leader of the defense and returns for a third season with the Titans.
Though there may be a few question stills on the defensive side of the ball, the areas of need for Tennessee were addressed in the off season. Playing in an atrocious AFC South, the Titans look like the team to pounce on the divisional crown in 2017.
Baltimore Ravens – Going into the 2017 NFL season, the Baltimore Ravens were going to be an average team. After training camp and preseason, this no longer holds true. The injury bug has bitten the Ravens roster with a vengeance and left them with seven season-ending injuries (you can read about the players involved here), just in training camp! Guard, John Urschel also retired. Additionally, Joe Flacco is recovering from a disk issue in his back (and if he goes down, Ryan Mallett will have to come into the starting QB role – God help those Ravens fans if that happens). Starting left tackle, Ronnie Stanley, and WR1, Breshad Perriman, are also injured at the moment (but hope to make it back in time for the season opener).
All things considered, this does not bode well for the Ravens – their sub-par offense (24th in DVOA last season) has gotten so bad that their above-average defense (6th in DVOA last season) won’t be able to carry them to a .500 record. The Ravens should still should finish third in their division, unless the Browns’ recent high-round draft picks can perform at a high level in the NFL.
Minnesota Vikings – Last season was a peculiar one for the Minnesota Vikings. They lost their franchise quarterback when he unfortunately blew up his knee on a routine drop-back. They addressed this by trading for former 1st overall pick, Sam Bradford. The reaction to this was fairly polarized, with most people deeming it a lateral move at best. This all changed when, five game into the season, they were undefeated. Not long after, though, the Vikings realized that they play in the state of Minnesota – where sporting success is as rare as water running uphill – and fell back down to Earth. Will their 2017 season remind us of those blissful first five weeks of the 2016 season or will it continue their run of mediocre form from the rest of the season? We think it will be the latter. Sam Bradford is not getting any better and people need to stop thinking he will miraculously become a franchise quarterback just because of his draft position. He ranked 29th in QBR last season. Dolphins backup QB, Matt Moore, had more game winning drives than him. His ceiling is not good enough to give this team a championship, not even close. But, maybe if he had more support around him, they could at least have a glimmer of hope and be a wild card team perhaps. As fate would have it, they are also abysmal in many other facets of their game. According to their stat, Adjusted Line Yards**, the Vikings O-line ranked 30th last season. Partially because of this, they had the 31st ranked rush attack. They are hoping that second-round draft pick, Dalvin Cook out of Florida State, can help out in their meek run game. The only area where optimism can be found is their receiving core: Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen have all the skills to be a steady one-two punch, if Bradford can find them. Also, their first-round pick from 2016, Laquon Treadwell, should take the next step in his development and compliment these two nicely.
The Vikings will definitely fare worse than their 8-8 record last season, and perhaps drop to the cellar of the NFC North, depending on the play of Chicago’s rookie QB, Mitch Trubisky.
New York Jets – “Ugly” might be a generous term to describe the 2017 season for the Jets. Where to start? To begin, the Jets ranked 31st a year ago in DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average) per Football Outsiders* with QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, Bryce Petty and Geno Smith all seeing playing time. They replaced QB Ryan Fitzpatrick and his 31st ranked 2016 QBR with 38 year-old Josh McCown and his whopping 35.5 QBR last season in limited action. Lets face it, he’s a backup on the best of days. Their rushing attack (which was good last season) is, as well, led by another aging player in Matt Forte who’s best years are definitely behind him. The receiving corps is about as green as it gets: Quincy Enunwa, Robby Anderson, Jalin Marshall are all in their second or third year in the NFL and are not ready to carry the load quite yet. Enunwa who’s slotted as the clear-cut #1 receiver unfortunately suffered a season-ending neck injury during camp, further decimating a vanilla offense. On top of this, Marshall and starting TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins are suspended to start the 2016 campaign, Marshall till week five and A-SJ till week three. Defensively it’s head scratching. Last year, they ranked 1st (!) in rush defense, and 31st in pass defense. Their secondary will have just as much trouble this season, returning highly overpaid CB Buster Skrine, who has 2 interceptions the past two seasons. Joining Skrine at the corner position is Morris Claiborne, coming over from the Cowboys, who has only started 18 games in the past 2 season and recorded just a single interception. Safety was the most needed position for the Jets going into 2017 and they added two in the first two rounds of the draft, selecting Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye. Both are projected to be supreme talents but perhaps not turnover-forcing players: Adams only had one interception for LSU in 2016 and scouts say Maye’s ability to defend the pass is not considered a strong trait. The team as a whole recorded just 8 interceptions in 2016, second last to the Jaguars (with 7). Look for this secondary to be shredded by opposing QB’s. Now, even though the Jets possess a stellar run-stopping defense, their inability to pressure the quarterback will haunt them in 2017 and continue their trend of being at the bottom of the barrel when it comes to stopping the pass. The Jets recorded only 29 sacks in 2016, ranked 29th in the NFL. Their biggest disappointment was Muhammad Wilkerson who will need to improve on his dismal 4.5 sacks, seeing as how he is the highest paid defensive end in the NFL.
The New York Jets are a dumpster fire. Who knows how bad the 2017 version of them will be, but we feel 2 wins will be a success for the green and white.
Adam is a student at the University of Toronto. You can follow him on Twitter @adam_m3318.
Carter is a hockey player, formerly in the WHL for the Vancouver Giants, currently at the University of British Columbia. You can follow him on Twitter @carter_popoff.
You can follow Hit the Cut on Twitter @hitthecutblog.
* DVOA and DYAR explained here: http://www.footballoutsiders.com/info/methods
** Based on regression analysis, the Adjusted Line Yards formula takes all running back carries and assigns responsibility to the offensive line based on the following percentages:
- Losses: 120% value
- 0-4 Yards: 100% value
- 5-10 Yards: 50% value
- 11+ Yards: 0% value
[Statistics are used from nfl.com and footballoutsiders.com]